From the moment he relocated his family eye care practice to downtown Main Street in Trumansburg, Dr. Neil Henninger has made it his mission to take advantage of the wealth of artistic talent that can be found in this small crossroads between the lakes.
When the time came to decorate his new office, Henninger opted for something other than the usual generic prints found in many medical practices. “When Trumansburg Optical moved to our new location there was a lot more wall space available in the waiting room so I thought it would be nice to use it to feature local artists,” he explained.
“We have a vibrant artist community here but, because we’re a small village, venues for artisans to display their work are pretty limited. Since I spend a lot of time in my office and I like good artwork, it seemed like an ideal partnership.”
One of the best things about this arrangement is its simplicity. Henninger installed a picture molding a foot and a half from his ceiling; then put hooks on the molding, using a 50-pound fishing line for support. When it’s time to change exhibits, artists come in and remove their work and the next ones install theirs, a streamlined process that takes no more than 45 minutes.
This type of collaboration benefits both parties. The revolving display of art on its walls keeps Trumansburg Optical looking vibrant and interesting, and the variety of colorful pieces displayed in the front office exposes community members to local artists they might not have realized existed. The view from the sidewalk also entices people to come into Henninger’s practice to get a closer look. Visitors might already be patients or might never have noticed his office before; regardless, the increased foot traffic and exposure has only benefited Henninger’s business.
Long-time receptionist Julie Tubbs, an artist herself, adds that once in the office people can’t help but notice the amazing selection of distinctive, stylish eyeglass frames and accessories that adorn the walls as well. “Most everyone in our community enjoys it when things look nice,” she says. “You don’t expect to find an art gallery inside an optical shop, but it works.”
A local focus
The final exhibit of the year opens during the annual Trumansburg/Ulysses Winter Festival, the first weekend in December. As a member of the Trumansburg Area Chamber of Commerce, Henninger, along with other Main Street merchants, participates in the Festival’s Business Open House that Friday night.
“It’s a great time,” he said. “We host a reception for the artist and Trumansburg Optical at the same time, with holiday music, refreshments, lots of good cheer and extra publicity for us both.”
Featured artist Jim Mason was an active participant in the 2010 Business Open House. As a photographer who was just beginning to market his work, the Open House gave him the chance to show and tell his friends and neighbors about his new photography business. “I sold several of my photos, either that night, or shortly afterwards,” he said proudly, adding that the feedback he received at the event helped him determine what types of photos would sell best in the Finger Lakes Region.
Much of the art shown at Trumansburg Optical features local people, places, and events because local subjects appeal to both Henninger and his patients. “Seeing the area we live in through someone else’s eyes reminds us to appreciate what an interesting place our region is,” Henninger observed.
Alice Gant creates hand-sewn narrative fabric art, and many of her pieces have a definite Finger Lakes flavor since she’s interested in birds, gardening and Finger Lakes history. Her banners frequently showcase people she feels have influenced the region with “significant contributions in a peaceful way” like abolitionists Lucretia Mott and Frederick Douglass, Native American Queen Catharine (Catherine Montour), and Jane Mt. Pleasant, who teaches Native American horticultural techniques at Cornell.
When she moved to Trumansburg 12 years ago, Gant looked around the village to see where other artists were exhibiting. “Nobody will buy something that’s just sitting in my trunk at home,” she explained. “I need to get my pieces hung up in public places so people can see them.”
When she was asked to hang her work in Trumansburg Optical, she was thrilled. “I loved the shade of green that was on the walls and knew my pieces would look wonderful there,” she said, adding that there was definitely enough room to hang about five of her larger fabric hangings. Like Henninger, Gant encourages business owners to look locally and display art with a community connection instead of purchasing impersonal pieces from big box stores.
Gant also sold two of her pieces that were hanging on the optometry practice’s walls. She credits this to the style of Henninger’s business, which is a good fit for her banners. “Any place where people can sit down next to my art and really look at it is ideal,” she explained.
Kim Schrag, whose summer oil painting show at Trumansburg Optical was titled, “Learning to See,” added that it’s not the sale of her pieces that matters as much as the exposure people get to her work. “You need to see art a number of times before you’re really ready to invest money in it,” she said. In her experience the more people who see a certain painting, the more familiar it becomes. Eventually, the piece will become so meaningful to them that they want to be able to look at it every day, so they purchase it.
To facilitate the business end of the arrangement, Henninger encourages artists who show their work at Trumansburg Optical to provide a biography statement, business cards and other relevant marketing materials.
Trumansburg Optical’s proprietor plans to keep the partnership intact until it’s time for him to retire. “If we ever run out of new artists, I’ll just start over again,” he said with a chuckle.
Trumansburg Optical’s Artists in Residence
Diane Van Delden
by Sue Henninger
Sue Henninger is a freelance writer who enjoys writing about the unique people, places, and events that can be found in the Finger Lakes Region. Contact her at www.fingerlakeswriter.com